Sunday, February 08, 2009

Victoria, She Burns

The projected high yesterday was 43/109 degrees. Within Melbourne, it reached 46/114 degrees. Many outlying towns managed 47/116 degrees.

I spent the day doing very little. I slept in as long as I could, turned no computer on, did not step out the front door, and spent the day reading. I thought my flat was getting hot, until I put my hand on the front door to peek outside, and it was so hot for a moment I thought I was burned. I peeked through the blinds and the heat falling from the glass was heavy and incredible and frightening. The sun was so bright everything was white. I thought the sky had been boiled white too, until I realised no, that was smoke. So much smoke it had no source. It came from everywhere.

The afternoon cool change is a quirk of Melbourne's climate. The vertical drop on that graph is no exaggeration. The cold air thunders across the state with such fury it wipes a hot day away within minutes. There'd been hot gusts from the north all day, scouring the streets and forming giant drifts of leaves on the side walk, yet the cold change was stronger, and when it hit, the flat shoot, the windows shook, the doors to the bedroom and bathroom were blown open by the pressure change.

Too late for most of the state.

Walking around the streets in the twilight, far from the bushfires, I could see the heat. All the trees, plants, bushes, everything, everything is burned. Leaves are crisped and curled and dead and falling. It isn't autumn, but it looks like it. Even the gum trees are struggling, whole branches dead and leaves mottled. There is no green grass. The sun isn't forgotten, even as it leaves the horizon.

I saw a water-bombing helicopter fly over. Melbourne has so few helicopters, I didn't recognise the sound of its engine, and sought it out. Going home to refuel, or repair.

Every fire season, they talk of how bad it is. Because of the drought, which has gone on for more than half my memory, everything is dry, ready to burn. Every fire season, they talk about Ash Wednesday. Sometimes it feels like alarmist, sensationalist fear mongering. This time it isn't.

(photo from The Age)

Entire townships have been razed. Every time I update the front page of the Age, the death toll has risen. To ease the strain on the CFA website, a google map keeping track of the bushfires has been set up here. The Australia Red Cross has set up relief centres across the state. Those of us safe in metropolitan Melbourne, please consider donating to aid those who've lost their homes, and especially to the CFA. They're volunteers.

I'm sitting here in a jumper, the first I've worn in weeks, because it is 20/68 degrees right now. I've watched it rain on and off during the day.

They say Australia is the coalmine canary of climate change.

That would indicate we're all fucked.


ETA (2102): Just got back from an evening stroll. Wandered down my street looking at an enormous sunset, a huge bank of hazy clouds lit up red and pink. Beautiful to behold. Until I started to realise something was wrong, hang on, wait a minute...the sun doesn't set there.

Turned around, and yes, the sun was setting exactly where it is supposed to. Blue skies, high scattered clouds catching gold and silver.

Turned around again, yes, the skies of Independence Day filling one half of the heavenly sphere. The sunlight was reflecting and caught in the smoke from the fires. As if so many infernos were no longer content to eat the land, but had to start on the sky as well. Spent my walking turning back and forth, 180 degrees, checking the opposing simultaneous sunsets. Creepy.


  1. Anonymous8/2/09 11:17

    The most horrible thought is that this could happen every year if temperatures keep rising and rain doesn't fall.

    It's hard to get my head around Marysville being gone.

  2. Anonymous8/2/09 11:29

    I was out on the parents' property for the '03 Canberra fires and I remember the smoke. When the big pine plantations along our road went up the sky was so black that I couldn't read the book I'd taken outside to look at in between ember-spotting - this at three in the afternoon.

    As the day ended that smoke was right overhead and the sky to the south was clear, which meant that we had the slanting, late-afternoon light usual for the time of day, except that it was coming south to north instead of west to east, all the landscape as far as you could see lit up at ninety degrees to where it would normally be. Like you, I found it very unsettling.

  3. Anonymous8/2/09 11:30

    I have the Darkover sun from Mt Doom (sorry, Taylor) for that same creepiness. They're both signals of sorrows now and more to come.

    We're a cheerful bunch, aren't we?

  4. Every year, the fires get a bit closer to home. I've concerns for my parent's house. They're less of a rural fringe suburb than they were, as the urban sprawl sprawls further, but the area remains full of old growth bush, and would go up in flames in an instant.

    The Canberra fires left a bit of a mark on me too, I was surprised to note. Remember that mini-series, SCORCHED, about 250 days without rain and a huge bushfire as a result? I had to walk out of the room when that started up.

    We are all very cheerful. Heh.